The non-celebrity at 6-5 is hounded for autographs at 11-0. Belue is enormously courteous about signing them, because as an inveterate autograph collector himself he knows the sting of a snub. Rick Barry's unwillingness to present young Buck with a signature is still remembered unforgivingly. Tempted to slip out the back door after a poor effort in last month's regular-season finale against Georgia Tech—8 for 16, but three interceptions—Belue realized that wasn't right and walked out the main door into the waiting throngs.
Nobody works a crowd better than Belue. He howdies everyone. Along the streets of Valdosta, he greets a mart warmly and then, out of earshot, says, "That guy is the worst umpire in Valdosta. He struck me out a couple of times. People like that stick out in your mind." In a restaurant he stops to buy peppermint candy—3¢ each. The money is used to help support a baseball team Belue played for, the Valdosta Red Sox. He takes three peppermints and leaves a nickel. A goody-goody companion points out the cash shortfall, and Belue says, "Those peppermints are overpriced. Besides, read the sign. It says, 'Your donation is appreciated.' It doesn't say you have to give anything." Quarterbacks are so doggone smart.
And Belue is lucky. Driving down a highway at 80—no cops come; passing on a hill—no cars come. Speeding past a sign indicating the shortest route to Plains, the billboard on which the farmers of south Georgia apologize for sending Jimmy Carter to the White House, and a billboard advertising a restaurant that has a 29-item salad bar, he reflects, "I do have a lot of confidence in myself. If we lose I get the blame, and if we win I get the glory. Quarterback isn't one of those positions that's real stable. I'm not going to tell you how good I am. I'll just play and let you form the opinions. I love to throw but I know there are better throwers. Still, I've got a pretty good arm. The difference this year is that when I drop back I know what to do. If the pass isn't there, I know not to throw. I'm not a great runner but I am mobile. What I love about football is the challenge of winning. It's a game that's not worth playing unless you win because it's so hard. I'm not saying we're one of the greatest teams that ever played. I just say we play hard and we mix that with some talent and good things happen."
John Kasay, an assistant offensive coach for the Bulldogs, says, "We can't compare to Notre Dame—on paper. You wouldn't bet on Georgia—statistically. The only thing we have is persistence." Another assistant, Rusty Russell, says, "The best thing you can say about these guys is they haven't got beat." Mostly because they're opportunistic. They lead the nation in turnover margin: they've got the ball 44 times on interceptions or opposition fumbles and turned it over themselves only 21 times.
Meanwhile, more Georgia pines and red clay are blurring past Belue's car. "You know, the main thing is to be happy," he says. "And I'm happy." And then Buck Belue flashes The Grin.